This story is by Victoria Collins and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The adrenaline rush matched the one I got playing football in high school. In those days, I’d keep my eyes open as I made my way to the window where the ball would sail through the air before landing in my arms. Once the ball was tucked in the crook of my elbow, I’d take off and no one could stop me. I was big enough not to be taken down easily and fast enough to stay one stride ahead of the guys who didn’t see the pass coming my way. I’d found a way for the thrill to continue and I wasn’t the least bit sorry.
It started innocently enough. People have always admired my patience and the way I could charm just about anyone. I was the kid who managed to get out of detentions that I deserved and make up with girls who had every reason to hate me forever. A flash of dimples, a sincere look, and a tilt of the chin were supposedly my secret weapons. I’ve always preferred to think it was just the kind of guy I was. Sweet, charming, and I might even go so far as to say debonair. Some of us just got it and I happen to be one of them. So, yeah, I’ve used charm to my advantage.
Charm is what gets me in and patience is what makes me successful. Well, patience and planning. Enough about me. That’s the real trick to success. It’s surprising what people will tell a perfect stranger who seems like someone they can trust. I live for the moment when I realize I’m in with them. Even if I drop them and move along, the moment they begin to trust me is one that’s hard to beat. I provide the listening ear and the genuine interest. I don’t leave anything to chance. After considering and accounting for every possibility, I plan where the encounter will happen and leave the rest up to them. It’s more fun that way. Since I know how it’s going to end, it’s important to me that they have some fun before it comes to that.
After eight years and 32 women, I got out of it the same way I got into it. Even though I never got caught and was never investigated, I wondered how long it could last. It turns out, they won’t be suspicious if you don’t give them reason to be. There was no way to be certain I’d ever give it up on my own or that if I did I would keep my promise to myself. At least, that’s what I thought. Then I found someone who talked me into giving it up without even trying.
Her name was Charity. I met her in a bus terminal outside Washington, D.C. I had picked that spot because they were doing a lot of construction there and construction means blind spots on security cameras. I used stormy season to my advantage and waited for a night when planes flying into Baltimore would be rerouted to Dulles International Airport. Plane loads of passengers would empty out of the terminal and make their way to the buses which would eventually get them to Baltimore. These travelers were weary from a day of flying. The storm had them on edge and they were just grateful to finally be sure that they were going to make it to their destinations without any further delays.
I was leaning up against the cement wall with my suitcase at my side and my leather satchel slung across my shoulders when I saw her. She blended in well enough, but she was also alert. She was clutching her bags and the smallest sound would make her turn her head. She didn’t look frightened, but I could tell she was one of those people who notices things. She stood where nobody could get behind her. She watched people and it was obvious she was listening to the conversations happening around her because every now and then she’d smile or even laugh to herself before sheepishly shaking her head and turning away. She didn’t pull out her phone the way most people do when they are given a moment to stand still. She didn’t have earbuds tucked into her ears to drown out what was going on around her. She was aware, more aware than most. While that wasn’t usually what I went for, the challenge was intriguing.
I pulled the handle of my suitcase up and slowly made my way toward her. I’d done it 32 times by then and that’s not counting the ones I decided not to go through with. There was always a vetting process, just because I started with someone didn’t mean I had to finish. Sometimes walking away was more satisfying than going through with it. As I walked by, I didn’t give her a wide berth. I invaded her space and waited to see how she would respond. She looked me right in the eye wondering when I’d say excuse me or make an effort to go around her. I looked her right back in the eye and stayed my ground. The edge of my suitcase caught on hers just like I knew it would. She didn’t move her bag to make it possible for me to get through. No looks of unbelief or anger crossed her face. She just stared on with this quiet confidence. Finally her right eyebrow tilted the slightest bit, telling me that she was curious. That’s when I moved in.
“Hey, oh, I’m sorry,” I said, grinning and lifting my suitcase away from hers. “It’s been quite a day.” She didn’t return my smile. “You ever seen a storm like this from the air?”
“Can’t say I have.” She was still making up her mind.
“Yeah, it was really something with the lighting flashing and everything.”
“Nothing like being in a metal box in the sky, huh?” her smile was joined by a laugh and my breath caught in my chest.
“I’ll say. You been to Baltimore before?”
She shook her head, “First time. I’m in town for a conference.”
“Oh?” Voluntary details meant progress.
“Yep, it’s a conference on sustainable gardening in an urban setting. I hear Baltimore is about as urban as it gets.” She relaxed her grip on her suitcase and toyed with the edge of her sweater.
“It’s a fantastic city. Not much of a destination where most people are concerned, but it has always been one of my favorites. You’ll have to be sure to check out the harbor.”
“I’m staying near there, actually. I was hoping to be able to poke around some.”
The information people share is astounding. It seems innocent enough, but they have no idea what the right information can help the wrong person accomplish.
Our conversation continued until the buses pulled up. As we joined the line, I debated asking if I could sit next to her. She looked over her shoulder when she stepped onto the bus and said, “It’s been fun talking with you. We’ve got the drive to Baltimore if you’re up for helping me stay awake?”
“I’d like that.” She had no idea how much.
We settled into seats near the middle of the bus. The conversation never lulled, but I could tell she was getting tired. I fingered the needle in my pocket, working it in and out of its cover deciding when I was going to use it. I pictured plunging it into her leg and then imagined the moment when her head would slump over onto my shoulder. I didn’t have long to make up my mind. Something was different. I was supposed to be a perfect stranger and instead I was sitting next to one. Charity made me want to tell her everything about me. She had a way of smiling big and then settling into this smirk that was driving me crazy. Everything she said was exciting and she drew me in in a way none of the others ever had.
I slid the cover back onto the needle knowing there wasn’t going to be a number 33. In less than two hours, this woman convinced me that there was something more thrilling than all of that. I wasn’t going to plunge the needle into her leg. I wasn’t going to transport her to the motel where I had a room reserved. I wasn’t going to walk away. I wanted to charm her for good so that what started that night never came to an end. With my secrets, it was even more risky than a regular guy going after a beautiful woman. I couldn’t wait to see how things would play out even though I knew it would mean lying to her for the rest of our lives.
All of a sudden, I was sorry.